Heading into last season, the Irish felt good about their secondary. The Irish only needed to replace David Bruton, and a natural replacement was there with Harrison Smith, who had seen the field as an undersized outside linebacker. Returning after a year away from the football program was Darrin Walls, there to push fellow cornerbacks Robert Blanton, Raeshon McNeil, and Gary Gray. The Irish thought they had all the pieces in place needed for an elite secondary. They were obviously wrong. With a defense hellbent on pressuring the quarterback and failing to do so, the Irish defense struggled mightily against the pass, too often giving up the big play. Whether it was broken coverages or late reads, the secondary took a major step back, and gave up far too many career days to opposing quarterbacks. With safeties Sergio Brown and Kyle McCarthy graduated, the Irish will need to revamp the safety position, with Harrison Smith and Jamoris Slaughter the front-runners for the jobs. A return to the 3-4 defense, more zone coverage, and defensive backs coach Chuck Martin should all help a veteran group of defensive backs reach their potential.
Short a program? Here’s every defensive back on the roster.
No. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. Hometown/High School
2 Darrin Walls Sr. 6-0/190 Pittsburgh, PA (Woodland Hills)
4 Gary Gray Sr. 5-11/190 Columbia, SC (Richland Northeast)
12 Robert Blanton Jr. 6-1/192 Matthews, NC (Butler)
15 Dan McCarthy Jr. 6-2/205 Youngstown, OH (Cardinal Mooney)
17 Zeke Motta So. 6-2/210 Vero Beach, FL (Vero Beach)
21 Barry Gallup, Jr. Sr. 5-11/190 Wellesley, MA (Belmont Hill)
22 Harrison Smith Sr. 6-2/214 Knoxville, TN (Knoxville Catholic)
23 Lo Wood Fr. 5-10/178 Apopka, FL (Apopka)
26 Jamoris Slaughter Jr. 6-0/195 Stone Mountain, GA (Tucker)
27 E.J. Banks So. 5-11/182 Pittsburgh, PA (Montour)
29 Michael Garcia Sr. 6-2/195 Colorado Springs, CO (St. Mary’s)
30 James Redshaw Sr. 5-9/175 North Huntingdon, PA (Norwin)
33 Chris Salvi Jr. 5-10/180 Lake Forest, IL (Carmel Catholic)
35 Andrew Plaska Jr. 5-11/185 Zeeland, MI (Zeeland West)
39 Ryan Sheehan Sr. 5-10/177 Purcellville, VA (Loudown Valley)
40 Thomas Smith Sr. 6-1/215 Manchester, CT (East Catholic)
42 Nick Lezynski Sr. 5-9/180 Newtown, PA (Notre Dame HS)
KELLY ON DEFENSIVE BACKS
On Gray: “Gary Gray has to play big for us. Gary Gray is a guy that has not been consistent enough on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, you have Blanton and you’ve got Walls, and you’ve
got Gary Gray and those are the three guys that have experience. Other
than that, we are tapping into zero experience. So he hears it from me
every day. He has to pick up his play.”
On Smith: “Harrison probably has been the number one guy in terms of his
play has been steady and consistent.”
On Motta: “He’s a good player. He’s done a great job for us. I can’t wait to see some of these guys play, including Zeke. He’s going to be running around all over the place.”
Chuck Martin on McCarthy: “McCarthy is a guy who we think is a pretty good football player.We don’t have a lot of numbers back there, but the four guys we have, we feel are capable of helping us win football games.
Martin on Gallup: “He’s done well since he’s been over there. He’s a tough kid. He’s quick. Obviously he’s drinking through a fire house right now. But he’s an older kid, so he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go out there and battle and take every rep I can get and keep competing to see how I can help this football team.’ He’s excited and we’re excited so I think it’s a good fit.”
Martin on Wood: “We’re getting unbelievable consistent effort out of him… He is trying to do it right every single snap. His approach to the game is absolutely what a coach is looking for.”
Martin on three veteran cornerbacks: “If you don’t think R.J., Darrin Walls and Gary Gray are going to play all the football they would ever want in a million years and more, that’s what I’m trying to prepare them for because they’re going to be on special teams.”
Believe it or not, the secondary wasn’t as bad as they looked last year. If a football team commits to sending six players after the quarterback every snap and they don’t get there, it’s the secondary that looks bad, not the defensive line and linebackers that didn’t get the pressure. Regardless of fault, the secondary was dreadful and has a lot to prove this season, and defensive backs coach Chuck Martin has his work cut out for him, building back a group that’s confidence was shot last season. While depth is thin after some attrition, each position group has four solid players, and as long as they stay healthy, the defensive backfield won’t be anywhere near the liability it was last year.
B- It’s tough to give this group too good of a grade after rewatching most of last season, but the potential is there for the secondary to become an asset. Getting consistent play out of the safeties will be the key.